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Federal Court Blocks State Mask Mandate Ban

Daniel Prince

State Superintendent issues memo to districts that they can require masks if they see fit

The US District Court for the District of South Carolina issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday stopping the enforcement of the state budget proviso that prohibited the use of state funds to enforce mask mandates for school districts. The restraining order was issued because the court found that the proviso discriminated against children with disabilities.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman issued a memo to school districts stating that the immediate effect of the order is that the state and local school districts are prohibited from enforcing the proviso and school districts now have discretionary authority to require masks. Spearman stated the court used strong language in the order to share grave concerns about barriers to meaningful access to in-person education, programs, services, and activities for students with disabilities. She said that in light of the ruling, the SC Department of Education strongly suggests schools and districts consult with their legal counsel on actionable steps that may need to be taken to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities under these federal laws.

Those school districts that referenced the proviso in their Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services plan as the reason for not following the CDC’s recommendations on masks will need to revise their plans immediately as a result of the court’s order. Union County’s plan references following DHEC’s guidelines and mandates regarding the use of masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment, but it does not specifically mention the budget proviso. It will be up to the school board as to whether or not to institute a mask mandate. When the subject came up in the August meeting, the board voted 5-3 against issuing one, with the members voting against it referencing the budget proviso as their reason.

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